Country road to recovery

John Lee

Behind the idyllic facade of rural communities lies a Pandora's box of lust and adultery. At least that seems to be Isla Dewar's theory for when Jessie Tate comes to live in the tiny Scottish seaside village of Mareth, instead of finding peace, she finds herself in the 'noisiest, rudest place in the world'.

Dewar's first novel has the quirky humour of a Bill Forsyth film, odd characters out of sync with the modern world, offering homely wisdom and an idiosyncratic, bawdy way of expressing themselves.

But there isn't enough flesh on the bones of her tale. While this might make an interesting one-hour television play or long, short story as a novel it does not work.

The first few chapters are lively and promising but then the plot fizzles out as Dewar goes in search of a story strong enough to last 200 pages. There are too many cliches in her characterisation and the humour often sounds like old jokes you've heard before.

Jessie is escaping from the city and a marriage which died with a stillborn baby. She is a university graduate and a successful professional who has gone off the rails.

Magda, owner of the Ocean Cafe, is a bitter mother of four illegitimate children, whose natural intelligence was stunted at an early age by teachers too stupid to understand that her learning difficulties stemmed from dyslexia.


Unable to read or write, she expresses herself with embarrassing frankness and pours her creative instincts into her cooking. She employs Jessie at the cafe and they develop an uneasy friendship.

Through Magda and her life and work in the village, Jessie manages to restore her sanity and find new understanding of herself.

Magda is a larger-than-life character painted with broad brushstrokes in vivid colours. She swears, makes crude jokes, loves sex in the most unusual places and never shaves her armpits.

But Magda is so strong, the other characters are merely echoes with little substance.


Dewar is patchily insightful, occasionally funny and has a keen understanding of the pain of a woman losing a baby in childbirth. Somewhere in here is a talented novelist wanting to get out.